Say It in a Sentence

Can you present your book idea in one sentence?

Can you present that idea in such a way that the reader is compelled to buy your book?

What motivates someone to spend money on a book? It is the promise that there is something of benefit to me, the reader.

Books are generally purchased for one of three reasons:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Information
  3. Inspiration

If your book idea can make me want to read it, whether it is for entertainment, information, or inspiration, then you are well on your way to making a sale.

This isn’t only about your title (although your title is the quickest way to get someone’s attention); it is about your pitch. That 25-words-or-fewer sound bite that instantly conveys your message.

Create something that makes me, a cynical curmudgeon, say, “Now that is interesting.” (Which by the way will help sway the grumpy, “I’ve seen it all” person in the sales or marketing department at a publishing company.)

Your pitch becomes your editor’s pitch,
which becomes your publisher’s pitch,
which becomes your retailer’s pitch,
And the consumer’s buy-it pitch,
which becomes the word-of-mouth pitch.

Did the picture at the top of the post get your attention? Did it make you smile? Did it make you want a taco? If so, it was the perfect pitch.


[An earlier version of this post ran in October 2011.]


19 Responses to Say It in a Sentence

  1. Timothy Fish October 17, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    It also makes the book easier to write.

  2. Timothy Fish October 17, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Not to discourage Steve from giving examples, but the best descriptions come from the second quarter of the story. For example, it can be said that Where the Red Fern Grows is about a boy who trains two dogs to hunt, but only in the second quarter of that book is he actively involved in training the dogs.

  3. Timothy Fish October 17, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Obviously, if there wasn’t a place for being wordy you wouldn’t be able to write a book, but when you find yourself being wordy in the way you describe the story, it is a warning sign that you don’t really know what your story is about. Or worse, it is so convoluted that no one else will understand it.

  4. J.D. Wininger (@JD_Wininger) November 4, 2019 at 5:16 am #

    Mr. Steve; I can’t say the sign atop your post caused me to want a taco, but it did help solidify the kind of agent I want to represent me. Thanks for your always sage advice sir. God’s blessings.

    • Daniel Gonzales November 9, 2019 at 2:15 pm #

      Hello steve my name is Daniel and i came across and really old Bible. That Thomas Nelson published back in 1798. I have one of those bibles in my presents i have pictures of it .if you can please take a look at it and tell me what you think i know this bible is more than 200 yrs old .here is my email or if you know someone that can help me out that would be great thank you for your time

  5. damonjgray November 4, 2019 at 5:38 am #

    I recall a couple of years ago a similar exhortation from an agent who wanted the hook in a single sentence, then in a single paragraph, and then in a half-page. It was an interesting challenge, and one I believe is valuable to add to one’s arsenal of promotional tools.

  6. michaelfaunce-brownsbooksfilmscripts November 4, 2019 at 6:27 am #

    Four soldiers, a nurse escaping the genocide in Alexandra Hospital and a street girl preserving her virginity with her knife, escape fallen Singapore to get vital Japanese war plans to Australia through 3,000 miles of jungle and stormy seas wiping out planes and patrols, chased by a remorseless lieutenant.

  7. Lisa Simonds November 4, 2019 at 6:34 am #

    Good morning!

    Yes, the sign made me smile, and yes, I want a taco.

    Here’s a sentence my publisher’s marketing team came up with for my novel ALL IN. I think it lets the reader know what they’re about to invest their time in, which I’ve discovered is VERY important for this particular book.

    “A woman’s empty pursuit of happiness leads to a crisis before finding redemption in the Lord in this challenging and gritty Christian novel.”

  8. Debby Kratovil November 4, 2019 at 7:05 am #

    I love tacos and will always prefer them to drugs of any kind! Condensing a book to a captivating sentence would take a lot of tacos on my plate to work down that far, but I’ll give it a try: “Moving from Pharisee to Jesus wannabe, come eavesdrop on the Confessions of a Dangerous Christian.”

  9. Bryan Mitchell November 4, 2019 at 7:27 am #

    The picture did get my attention. And I had tacos last night. My reaction was more like, “Interesting, I just had tacos. This must be a sign. Oh wait it is a sign–sort of.”

  10. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 4, 2019 at 7:59 am #

    My book’s about an atheist
    who finds that the Last Days have come,
    and being marked for Satan’s list,
    chooses, very late, to run
    straight into the arms of Christ,
    and straight into persecution,
    where all he has is sacrificed
    but he gets the gift of elocution
    to rally with a clarion call
    those who remain, to bravery,
    and thereby to give it all
    in resistance of sin’s slavery,
    for even in a hopeless fight
    there is morning past the night.

  11. sharonkconnell November 4, 2019 at 8:27 am #

    Steve, I kept hoping you’d mention what to include in that one sentence pitch. 🙂

  12. Mary Hunt November 4, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    I’m learning (kinda’ late, perhaps) this principle applies also to blog posts and open rates; Google page search ranking … the art of the SEO title. You nailed it, Steve. Thanks.

  13. Johnnie Alexander November 4, 2019 at 10:23 am #

    Randy Ingermanson teaches what I call the Who-What-Why one-sentence pitch. His example is “An astrophysicist (who) travels back in time (what) to kill the apostle Paul (why).”

    My latest: “An amateur photographer is forced to help a rogue government agent solve a cold case to protect her comatose friend’s life.”

    The sentence itself is a WIP since I’m writing the story for NaNoWriMo and it’s already an exuberant mess oozing with plot holes!

    • Carol Ashby November 4, 2019 at 3:06 pm #

      I like it! You hooked me.

      • Johnnie Alexander November 6, 2019 at 10:05 am #

        Thanks for the encouragement, Carol. I have a long way to go with the story itself, but it’s helpful to know the summary is intriguing. 🙂

  14. Kay DiBianca November 4, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    I’m in such a rush to go buy a taco, I can only supply a sentence fragment:

    “A Watch That Tells More Than the Time…”

  15. Carol Ashby November 4, 2019 at 3:03 pm #

    Coming up with a 1-sentence hook is crucial for making attractive clickbait. I have clickable images of my covers in the sidebar of my Roman history site with a tagline underneath them. I’m convinced those 1-sentence tags are key for the international sales from that site. One of my personal favorites: “Sometimes you have to almost die to discover how you want to live.”

  16. Melanie Jones November 5, 2019 at 1:02 am #

    “Answer Me”: A Christian journalist who lost her faith after being raped is forced to confront her doubts when a kidnapper demands answers from God as ransom.

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